July 31, 2016

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I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life. – Psalm 119:93

It’s been a while. A while since I’ve posted something substantial as far as brain droppings go. A while since I even posted some kind of general update to at least prove that I still exist on this plane of mortality. Did’ja miss me? I’m sure there’s at least a couple of you that did. Hi, Mom.

As it stands, I wish I had something positive to report. Even something as innocuous as “Doing fine, life is good, totally blessed,” and other similar posts I generally gloss over in my social media feed. Then again, even if I posted something like that and meant it, I’d have friends and acquaintances calling me to see if I’m feeling okay.

It’s not easy being the negative charge on the proverbial battery of life.

Boy howdy has 2016 been a trying year. I believe I began wishing for some kind of reset button around May or so. Here we are, the tail end of July, in the middle of the wicked season that is Summer, and there were two events in the past couple of months that have made me want to count this year as a wash. Just to give you an idea of what’s been happening to keep me from wanting to keep up with the content on this blog o’ mine:

My final grandmother passed away at the beginning of June. She was a week or so away from her 90th birthday. She passed away in her sleep; but it was the months leading up to her passing that took the most out of me and my family. It was tough, watching her fade away like she did. I’m still mourning her loss. I suppose I will for a while.

The second thing that hit me pretty hard this summer was something that I really did not see coming at all. Which is why, three weeks after it happened, I–and sever others as well–amĀ  still feeling the whiplash. I can’t really get into the details at the moment; I’m still processing things, and I’d like to get as much information as possible to make a fair assessment of the situation. Let’s just say that, as of today many of us are finding ourselves without a church to call home. Like I said, I’ll probably go into more detail at a later post, I just want to be able to do so in a way that’s gracious and not falling into the realm of sensationalist muck-raking. Because we’re getting enough of that with this current election period, amirite?

Until next time, I hope to shake off the dark fog I’ve been in for the past few months to get back to posting my brain droppings, reviews and other fun stuff. It’s a struggle, buy by the grace of God I go. Cheers, all.


Movie Review: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

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ghostbusters2016Columbia Pictures

“Okay, room full of nightmares.”

Paranormal researcher Abby Yates and physicist Erin Gilbert are trying to prove that ghosts exist in modern society. When strange apparitions appear in Manhattan, Gilbert and Yates turn to engineer Jullian Holtzmann for help. Also joining the team is Patty Tolan, a lifelong New Yorker who knows the city inside and out. Armed with proton packs and plenty of attitude, the four women prepare for an epic battle as more than 1,000 mischievous ghouls descend on Times Square.

Okay, internets. Are we done, then? Are we finished with all the vitriol, the whining, the knee-jerk reactionary hyperbole? You should be by now, seeing as how it’s been a week since the reboot of the Ghostbusters film finally came out.

Never since that great debate of the proper pronunciation of .GIF have I witnessed such a ballistic split in online nerd-dom over something so now-commonplace as a movie reboot. I don’t think I really have to go into discussing how ridiculous all the objections were; sufficed to say, I ignored the majority of them, opting to watch the movie with some cautious optimism. And my final verdict is…

Ghostbusters 2016 is decent. That’s right: Decent. And that’s not me trying to be neutral to avoid controversy. Believe me, if it would have sucked, I would have said as much, followed by the explanation of why my assessment was as such. I’m afraid anyone reading this expecting a delicious rant, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I found this Ghostbusters to be entertainingly decent.

One of my biggest concerns going in was the very real possibility that this was going to be the “Girly Ghostbusters”. You know, one of those arbitrary straight remakes with female leads instead, that completely misses the point. Instead, while there be some parallels to the original, this one manages to tell its own story and fleshes this world out decently, and develops the characters into their own identities, and not mere carbon copies of the classic lineup. The effects were very good, with the ghost effects being some of the best parts of this. And when it found its own footing, both the humor and the horror elements gelled together well.

That said…did you catch that part, there, where I said “when it found its footing”? That’s because it took about 20 minutes or so for me to warm up to the characters and the humor. This is not because I don’t like the actors–I’m very much not familiar with their individual bodies of work to form an opinion–but because the first part seemed to rely heavily on juvenile gross-out humor, including a queef joke. And because of this review, I finally had to use Google to look up the proper spelling of the word “queef”. Thank you, movie.

I believe the weakest part of the movie was the villain. He was no Gozer. He was no Vigo the Carpathian. He wasn’t even on the level as the guy trying to get Vigo into our world, Doctor Jarosz. I would qualify this movie’s antagonist as more a baddie-of-the-week on an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I also found the nigh-unavoidable cameos from the original movie border on pandering…with the exception of Slimer. His bit was awesome.

Overall, despite its flaws, despite it being unnecessary, and despite the hordes of whiny fanboys raging against its very existence before there was even a script, Ghostbusters circa 2016 is a decently good movie. It was entertaining, and that’s all it is. The original two movies are in no danger of being usurped by this updated take on the paranormal clean-up crew, and I really don’t think I’ll be rewatching this, or buying the DVD when it’s released, but for a summer action horror/comedy hybrid, you’re not going to be demanding your money and/or childhood back once you get through the end credits.

(check out the Will Code For Beer Ghostbusters 2016 Special pubcast)

Movie Review: IRON MAN 2

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Movie Review: IRON MAN 2Paramount Pictures / Marvel Entertainment

“Because I’m your nuclear deterrent. It’s working. We’re safe. America is secure. You want my property? You can’t have it. But I did you a big favor. I’ve successfully privatized world peace. What more do you want?”

Refusing to hand over his technology to the government pits rich inventor Tony Stark – aka Iron Man – against his friend Lt. Col. Rhodes. But when an arms maker partners with a rogue Russian physicist, Iron Man teams with Rhodes to take them down.

The second entry in the Iron Man section of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe is, to say the very least, polarizing. While many thought that the story of Iron Man 2 was a bit close in style to the first one (and in many ways, it is), I have to say that my personal enjoyment of this second Iron Man flick was pretty high. Possibly as high as the first one, I dare say.

This may be due to my utter ignorance of the overall Iron Man comics to begin with. Really, I’m the living embodiment of being able to thoroughly enjoy something without having to know anything about the source material. I’ve said this before about many a comic book-based movie, and I’ll probably say it many more times before Death herself prevents me from writing my fetid brain droppings. Even if I did, I’d probably not let that kind of fanboy nit-pickery get in the way of enjoying a good movie. And Iron Man 2 is a good movie.

One of those factors is that, this being the second movie in the character’s series, there’s no need to build the introductions. We already know who the main characters are; no need to go back explaining the back-story (unlike a certain DC comics character, whose tragic origin has to be rehashed in almost every single movie he’s in, but I digress). There’s a couple of requisite baddies in this one: Ivan Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke, who may be just another guy in a mecha-suit, but he’s an amusing Russian guy in a mecha-suit who’s smarter than he lets on, which I found amusing. Then there’s Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell, who chewed scenery and really played up the wormy slimeball competitor of Tony Stark’s rather gleefully.

Really, I found Iron Man 2 very enjoyable, the development of not only Tony Stark’s character but of all of the other supporting cast really good, and the action scenes to be extremely satisfactory. It’s a Marvel comic book movie, for crying out loud, what were you expecting? King Lear? To be fair, though, I did kind of not like the slight bleed-over of characters from the other parts of the MCU–namely, Nick Fury and Black Widow–but, really, when building the entire world, it was inevitable.

Overall, yeah…Iron Man 2 is just as awesome and good as the first one. No real complaints here.


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Oxford University Press

“The ghosts of fiction were not killed off by the advent of the electric light, the invention of the telephone, the coming of the motor car, or even by the once unthinkable horrors of technological warfare. Instead they took over the trappings, landscapes, and cultural assumptions of the twentieth century for their ancient purposes.” Thus Michael Cox introduces The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Ghost Stories, a unique collection of 33 of the best and most chilling ghost stories of our era. The first anthology to trace the evolution of the ghost story over the last one hundred years, this book demonstrates the variety and versatility of the genre and the different ways in which stories of the supernatural have adapted to twentieth-century venues and concerns. In these tales we encounter not only the returning dead, but also distinctly modern phantoms: a haunted typewriter, a ghost that travels by train, and an urban specter made of smoke and soot. There are child ghosts and haunted houses, playful spooks and deadly apparitions. The authors of these uncanny tales are as diverse as the kinds of stories they tell; there are ghost stories by such specialists as M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood and many by authors not commonly associated with the genre: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Graham Greene, A.S. Byatt, and Angela Carter are only a few of the literary celebrities included in this collection. At a time when our era seems to grow increasingly rational and predictable, The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Ghost Stories reminds us of the joys of uncertainty and wonder. Distinctive and gripping, these stories will linger long in the memory.

I came across this copy of The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Ghost Stories at one of the local libraries in Omaha, back in 1999. This was back when I was actively embracing the Gothic subculture, and was searching for adequate literature to help develop my burgeoning pretentiousness. Also, I wanted something beyond just the usual staple of Anne Rice and…well, strictly vampire fiction in general. So, I picked up this collection, because it had the pedigree of being an official Oxford collection, and also ghost stories. I loves me some ghost stories. Ever since I was but a grade schooler, and found myself listening to them being told by a bonfire at a friend’s sleepover one October night. But, I digress.

Of the authors that populate this collection, the ones that I recognized right off the bat whilst scanning the Contents section were M. R. James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Algernon Blackwood, Graham Greene, and Robert Bloch. Of those five that I recognized, there were two that surprised me by being included, being Fitzgerald and Greene. But, hey, I guess that everyone has a ghost story or two in them. Otherwise, James, Blackwood and Bloch (which, when said that way, sounds like a law firm of some sort) are mainstays in the genre of supernatural fiction, and some of my favorites.

As far as how the other authors featured in this collection go, well…let’s go through them a bit, shall we?

“In The Dark” (E. Nesbit)
A young man suspects that his college chum might be losing his marbles after allegedly murdering a rather annoying schoolmate over holiday…

“Rooum” (Oliver Onions)
A railroad labor worker seems a bit extra jumpy, and fears some seemingly non-existent whispers and echoes…also, he seems a bit preoccupied with molecules and osmosis…

“The Shadowy Third” (Ellen Glasgow)
A nurse discovers she can see the ghost of the daughter of the sick lady she’s taking care of, and the reason behind all this might have something to do with the patient’s doctor husband…

“The Diary Of Mr. Poynter” (M. R. James)
An antique book collector finds an interesting pattern bit inside an old diary and uses that for the pattern of new curtains…turns out to be a bad idea, that…

“Mrs Porter and Miss Allen” (Hugh Walpole)
A recently widowed woman seems rather anxious about something…or someone…much to her young companion’s consternation…

“The Nature of the Evidence” (May Sinclair)
A widower decides to remarry, but his dead wife doesn’t approve of his choice…

“Night-Fears” (L. P. Hartley)
A long-time night watchman encounters a mysterious stranger who strikes up a conversation about the watchman’s profession…it doesn’t end well…

“Bewitched” (Edith Wharton)
A reclusive farmer has been visiting his old (and very dead) flame, and his wife is a bit perturbed about it…

“A Short Trip Home” (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
A young man’s childhood friend (and major crush) comes back from college with a bit of a sinister hanger-on…

“Blind Man’s Bluff” (H. Russell Wakefield)
A night shift security guard isn’t going home tonight…or any other night, it seems…

“The Blackmailers” (Algernon Blackwood)
An insurance agent finds himself being blackmailed by someone who…well, just doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about it…

“Yesterday Street” (Thomas Burke)
In a bit of a nostalgic mood, a man decides to visit the street in which he grew up, and finds himself engaged in a game of marbles with his childhood pals…

“Smoke Ghost” (Fritz Leiber Jun.)
An office manager has visions of a ghostly thing forming out of the smoke and soot of the industrialized city he dwells in…

“The Cheery Soul” (Elizabeth Bowen)
Having been invited to a large estate for Christmas, a young lady finds the sole inhabitant a bit off-putting…as well as those cryptic messages found in the kitchen…

“All But Empty” (Graham Greene)
A regular patron of a silent movie theater has an encounter with a rather peculiar attendee…

“Three Miles Up” (Elizabeth Jane Howard)
Two gents are taking a holiday on a boat, and happen upon a young lady who joins in their expedition…and then they get a bit lost…

“Close Behind Him” (John Wyndham)
After a robbery gone bad, a thief is pursued back to his home by the ghost of the guy he robbed…

“The Quincunx” (Walter de al Mare)
The nephew of a stingy (and recently declared living impaired) aunt inherits her house…and unwittingly becomes the new abode for her restless spirit…

“The Tower” (Marghanita Laski)
A lady goes sight-seeing alone at an ancient Italian tower, climbing steps in the dark…

“Poor Girl” (Elizabeth Taylor)
A governess has as a charge a young lad with a very old soul…

“I Kiss Your Shadow—” (Robert Bloch)
Shortly after an accident killed his fiance, the survivor soon learns that true love never really dies…like it or not…

“A Woman Seldom Found” (William Sansom)
A lonely man visiting Rome happens across an equally lonely woman while walking at night…wasn’t expecting that ending, there…

“The Portobello Road” (Muriel Spark)
A writer regales us with the details of her life, leading up to her murder five years prior…

“Ringing the Changes” (Robert Aickman)
A newly married couple arrive at their honeymoon destination, and learn the hard way to not go someplace on the off-season…

“On Terms” (Christine Brooke-Rose)
As far as I can tell, a ghost is having a fever dream-like breakdown in the process of his essence breaking down into nothing…surreal and seemingly constructed from run-on sentences and stream-of-consciousness…

“The Only Story” (William Trevor)
A man writes down the only story he’ll ever write, about the final moments of his life…

“The Loves of Lady Purple” (Angela Carter)
The centerpiece of an old man’s traveling marionette show has a sordid back-story…and a bit of a Pinocchio complex…

“Revenant as Typewriter” (Penelope Lively)
A college professor discovers to her annoyance that she’s not acting like herself…

“The Little Dirty Girl” (Joanna Russ)
A middle-aged woman inadvertently befriends a waifish 8-year-old girl, and discovers the power of existential projection…booga booga booga…

“Watching Me, Watching You” (Fay Weldon)
A ghost watches idly the passing of time between a divorced couple…also, the story’s title automatically makes the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” start playing in my head…

“The July Ghost” (A. S. Byatt)
A summer tenement befriends a young boy in the garden, a boy who’s quiet, not unpleasant, and also the spitting image of the flat owner’s dead son…

“The Highboy” (Alison Lurie)
Antique chest of drawers…not as innocent and unassuming as one would think they are…

“The Meeting House” (Jane Gardam)
A bunch of old-timey Quakers meet their new homeless neighbors, and wackiness ensues…

Overall, I found the entire collection to be a good selection. They didn’t all go for the same formula, as many tend to do. I think that, like with other collections I’ve read, the majority of authors I didn’t recognize helped to give me an idea of what kind of talent lies out there for me to check out some time in the future. So many stories, so little time. Otherwise, this was a good sampling of the kind of ghost stories that could be found within the various decade of the 20th Century, from a time when “fantastic fiction” was regulated to pulp publications, to when the style was beginning to gain some bit of legitimacy in literary circles. Also, they fire up the imagination, which is really the measure of a good ghost story. Definitely worth checking out.